Supporting Wellness and Mental Health in the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf Blind Community
By Alison Nutt
The Well Being Program is a community organization that provides mental health and wellness counselling and support services to the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind (D/HH/DB) community. Support and services are provided through our Child and Youth Mental Health services by professionals with background and experience in deafness and Deaf culture, child development, and therapeutic approaches to teaching skills and addressing behaviour.
So, what does “mental health and wellness” mean for young D/HH/DB children? It involves having positive and healthy relationships, understanding of the social world, and being aware of their emotions and emotional functioning. Having happy and healthy children who are confident and well adjusted is important, but it is just as important for children to be able to respond to and manage stress, understand the range of their emotions, and be responsible for their role in social and family relationships.
All children, hearing or deaf, need opportunities to learn social and emotional skills through their interactions with other people and the world around them. For some D/HH/DB children, this learning process is more challenging. Incidental learning opportunities may be fewer, overt explanation in their primary language may be limited, or other developmental factors may influence a child’s social experience. Additionally, as children get older and are more aware of their similarities and differences from peers, some D/HH/DB children may experience feelings of isolation, low self esteem or confidence, or anxiety about certain social environments. As a result, families may see different behaviours arise when their children have not developed the skills to navigate their social experiences and understand or manage their emotional responses.
The goal of counselling and support services with D/HH/DB children and their families is to ensure they have the skills to cope with the various experiences they have, especially those that may be stressful, emotionally overwhelming, or isolating. What these services or approaches look like will be different for each child and family based on the individual need.
When working with families with young children, sessions typically focus on working with parents rather than direct involvement with the child. Discussion and education around child development, behaviour strategies, and communication strategies are a common focus of support services for parents with young children.
When children are closer to school age or have entered the school system, often individual counselling sessions with the child are set up to focus on their needs and skill development directly. One-on-one sessions are rooted in play-based activities that are designed to explore a child’s specific area of challenge and teach skills and awareness as part of the discussion. Parents/caregivers are still involved but the kind or level of involvement will vary depending on the need or focus of counselling services.
Counselling support is also available to hearing family members of D/HH/DB children. This includes parents, caregivers, and siblings. These support services are available to navigate the adjustment to family life and family functioning when there is a deaf family member. If there are additional needs beyond this scope, the Well Being Program can help facilitate a referral to another community program that fits the specific need.
Lastly, another aspect of services provided through the Well Being Program includes educational and wellness workshops. These workshops are soon to be expanded to have topics that focus on child development, behaviour, and family functioning.
If you are interested in learning more about the Well Being Program or are curious about support services for your child and/or family, we would be happy to meet with you and discuss your needs. Parents can self-refer to our program or another service provider can help to facilitate a referral with your consent. This could be an early intervention provider, Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, or other community agency. Contact the Well Being Program coordinator, Kristen Pranzl, at firstname.lastname@example.org, for any questions or to arrange a meeting. Please also check out our website : http://deafwellbeing.vch.ca